“The garden in which stands my humble abode is separated only by a lane from Rosings Park, her ladyship’s residence.” (Mr. Collins to Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Vol. I, Chapter 14).
Abigail Reynolds tweaks this small detail of Pride and Prejudice, altering it to become one of the many rivers in Kent, and in doing so, opens the door for a flood (pun intended) of consequences for Miss Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, trapped and unchaperoned at Hunsford. According to the Amazon.com description, there were real floods taking place during the spring of 1811. This became the basis for the novel.
The second major change in Reynolds’ variation is the backstory she’s created for Mr. Bennet.
In the original text (P&P), Mr. Bennet’s general belief of Mr. Darcy’s unworthiness of Elizabeth is founded upon the public perception of Mr. Darcy, beginning from his standoffish behavior at the Assembly Ball in Meryton. Mr. Bennet’s primary concern is that Elizabeth would experience the same marital unhappiness shared by Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
“Have you any other objection,” said Elizabeth, “than your belief of my indifference?”
“None at all. We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.” (Elizabeth speaking to Mr. Bennet, P&P, Vol. III, Chapter 17).
[spoiler] A long-standing grudge adds heft to Mr. Bennet’s dislike of Mr. Darcy and transforms him into the primary antagonist to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s union.[/spoiler]
Instead of the father and husband who finds pleasure in making fun of foolish behavior, we must contend with a man hardened more by Lizzy’s obstinacy than by Lydia’s disgraceful behavior. Mr. Bennet becomes a villain to rival Mr. Wickham’s infamy. It is on this point that Jane Austen purists may struggle the most.
Readers who enjoy exploring the romantic story of Darcy and Elizabeth overcoming their failings to find love will not be disappointed. We are treated to the intimate thoughts of a passionate Darcy and the romantic entanglements that ensue are toe-curling, warm cup o’chocolate on a rainy day-pleasing, good fun. I loved that Reynolds chooses to allow Darcy and Elizabeth to work through their misunderstandings in person rather than via the letter Darcy delivers to Elizabeth in the grove, post-proposal.
What is perhaps the largest elephant in the drawing room is the question which readers will ask but Reynolds leaves unanswered:
Why doesn’t Elizabeth make every effort to get home instead of remaining unchaperoned with Mr. Darcy and risking her reputation?
As Regency readers may know, any young lady, finding herself unchaperoned overnight with a young gentleman, must be compromised. At the very least, her reputation would be destroyed.
We know this to be true from the consequences after Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham in the original novel. Mr. Collins, upon his visit to Longbourn, laments the disgrace the whole family must experience as a result. So, why is more of a concentrated effort not made to restore Elizabeth to her family as soon as possible?
[spoiler]If Elizabeth was not compromised, Mr. Darcy would not have been forced to announce their engagement prematurely in the papers, before consulting Mr. Bennet, thus ending their connection entirely.[/spoiler]
We know from P&P that Kent is a good 50 miles from Longbourn:
“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”
“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.” (Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth speaking, P&P, Vol. II, Chapter 9).
From the flooding, we know that the bridge crossing the river between Hunsford and Rosings has been washed out. There is another bridge further on but we are not given the distance away. Can it be reached before nightfall? Is it a few days’ journey?
Reynolds also states that the “east road is impassible”. Where does this road go? Are we meant to suppose that this is the road back to Longbourn? Reynolds doesn’t say and as it’s never taken into consideration, Lizzy’s return to Longbourn, this must be the case.
As an alternative option, Mr. Darcy considers sending Elizabeth to London via coach but decides against it due to the impropriety of traveling alone.
As Lady Catherine would say,
“Mrs. Collins, you must send a servant with them. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post by themselves. It is highly improper. (P&P, Vol. II, Chapter 14).
Be this as it may, Jane Austen’s heroines have travelled by coach, alone, before. Can you name the novel?
The correct answer: Northanger Abbey
Catherine Moreland is ousted from Northanger Abbey following General Tilney’s discovery that he has been deceived by John Thorpe and Catherine is not in fact, an heiress. Eleanor is terrified and ashamed of Catherine’s treatment and struggles to explain the situation that Catherine now finds herself.
“I hope, I earnestly hope, that to your real safety it will be of none; but to everything else it is of the greatest consequence: to comfort, appearance, propriety, to your family, to the world. Were your friends, the Allens, still in Bath, you might go to them with comparative ease; a few hours would take you there; but a journey of seventy miles, to be taken post by you, at your age, alone, unattended!” (Eleanor speaking to Catherine, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 28).
Catherine’s reputation was not permanently damaged by traveling alone, although her parents thought that General Tilney must be a strange man to allow such a thing (see Chapter 29).
Elizabeth, likewise, would have certainly recovered from this incident and probably would have found something to laugh at in the business. Arriving in Cheapside, she would then be under the protection of her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, with no more harm done.
Despite these flaws, Mr. Darcy’s Refuge was still a mostly entertaining read that fans of her other work will be sure to enjoy.